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Description - The Making of Victorian Sexuality by Michael Mason

What did the Victorians think about sex? What was the reality of their sexual behaviour? What wider concepts - biological, political, religious - influenced their sexual moralism? The Making of Victorian Sexuality directly confronts one of the most persistent cliches of modern times. Drawing on an exceptionally wide range of evidence about 19th-century behaviour and opinion - from modern demographic analysis to the travel writing of foreign visitors, and from popular medicine to Malthusian polemic - Michael Mason shows how much of our perception of 19th-century sexual culture is simply wrong. Far from being a licence for prudery and hypocrisy, Victorian sexual moralism is shown to be in reality a code intelligently embraced by wealthy and poor alike as part of a human and progressive vision of society's future. The "Average" Victorian man, for example, was not necessarily the church-going, tyrannical, secretly lecherous, bourgeois pater familias of modern-day legend, but often an agnostic, radical-minded, sexually continent citizen, with a deliberately restricted number of children. A lively and fascinating synthesis of a wealth of new research. The Making of Victorian Sexuality is a timely disruption of our present comfortable consensus on nineteenth-century society. Moreover, it persuasively argues that in Victorian sexual moralism there may be much to teach the complacently libertarian 20th century.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780192853127
ISBN-10: 0192853120
Format: Paperback
(196mm x 128mm x 22mm)
Pages: 348
Imprint: Oxford Paperbacks
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publish Date: 6-Apr-1995
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions - The Making of Victorian Sexuality by Michael Mason

Book Reviews - The Making of Victorian Sexuality by Michael Mason

US Kirkus Review » Of the many books since the 1960s that claim to overturn the cliche of Victorian prudery, this is surely the least interesting, persuasive, and readable. Mason (English/Univ. College, London) broadly defines the Victorian era as starting with the 1790s - the Romantic, Regency, or Georgian period - and petering out well before 1900, his cut-off date. He's certainly done resourceful and intensive research (check out the mammoth bibliography); his text considers such varied sources as working-class papers, medical reports, popular culture, and religious writing. Missing, however, is analysis of the major cultural landmarks that Peter Gay illuminates so brilliantly in his still uncompleted series on "the bourgeois experience." Using imperfectly assimilated sociological jargon, Mason argues that a crisis in confidence in courtship and marriage for the first two or three decades of the 19th century encouraged prostitution and casual sex; that interest in marriage and concubinage was renewed at mid-century; and that the introduction of artificial contraception revived sexuality after 1860. The moral "recalibration" that began in the lower classes with a rise in sexual "moralism," he asserts, became a sign of political progress throughout the period, touching the middle classes as well. Considering popular entertainments, housing, class orientation, and medical attitudes, he finds a discrepancy between sexual attitudes and behavior - in brief, Victorian hypocrisy - a discrepancy he criticizes Foucault for overlooking, but one that he claims anthropologists find in many societies. While the material is interesting, Mason's focus is so narrow, his writing so gnarled, his syntax so confusing, his structure so uncertain, that it is difficult to follow his argument or ascertain the direction in which he is moving (toward the end he proposes a second volume). Hard to imagine why anyone would prefer this volume to Gay's, or even read it afterward. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Michael Mason

Michael Mason has edited the Oxford Authors edition of William Blake (OPB, 1988), and is Wordsworth and Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads (Longman, 1992), and Trollope: Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews (Arno 1981). He lives in Oxford.

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